April 11, 2002
Rumsfeld says he won't lie, but will limit war information
Defense chief explains his rationale to editors
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – In an appearance before newspaper editors
yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the
Pentagon's handling of information on the war on terrorism and
repeated his pledge not to lie to the news media.
"I've never had any need to lie to the press or felt any desire to," Rumsfeld said. "What you have is your credibility, and that is the only thing that gives people and governments traction."
From his previous experiences in Washington, Rumsfeld
recalled the pervasive distrust of the government because of the
obvious lies about the conduct of the Vietnam War.
That deception "probably didn't help" the war effort and "there
probably would've been a way to do it short of lying," he said.
For example, he said he does not "answer things I don't want to
answer," and does not talk about future operations, intelligence
or classified matters.
And when nations that offer to help in the war on terrorism ask
that their involvement not be revealed, the United States readily agrees, he said.
The U.S. does not deny that U.S. troops might be in such a
country, Rumsfeld said, "we just don't discuss it."
The reason not to lie, he said, "seems to me is pretty simple. You lose so much more if, in fact, people cannot believe what you're saying."
Although he abolished the Office of Strategic Influence in the
wake of media speculation that it might be used in some cases to give out misleading information, Rumsfeld said he would seek
other ways to get the government's message out.
"We can't just sit there and allow the press to report everything
that Osama bin Laden is saying and everything the Taliban are
saying and everything the terrorists are saying . . . and not find a way to rebut it when it's not true."
The government has to find alternative ways to get its story out, Rumsfeld said, because "anything that is against the United States . . . or is bad is a lot more newsworthy," while "anything that is humanitarian or is constructive is not going to sell newspapers."
In his hour-plus appearance at the annual meeting of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors, Rumsfeld also denied
that the military has unreasonably restricted coverage of the
fighting in Afghanistan. He cited, among other steps, the
first-ever news coverage of special operations troops in combat.
His impression of the press is that "there's almost no level to
which you can feed them that they will not want more," he said
with a laugh. "And therefore, I expect a certain amount of
unhappiness and unease."
Some media analysts say Rumsfeld has gained considerable
celebrity through his frequent media briefings. But he told the
editors that he takes the time to conduct the briefings because "I get asked to do it by people in government and by people in
He said those people "feel that the person who is intimately
involved in the global war on terrorism can be helpful to them
by seeing that the subject has some structure" because,
otherwise, it gets "tugged away" by multiple voices and media
"I don't know if it's helpful or not. But I keep getting asked to do it, so I tend to do it," Rumsfeld said.